Not your typ­i­cal des­ti­na­tion

Provo, Utah, has in­ter­na­tional fla­vor, lo­cal his­tory

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Travel - By An­drea Sachs

A cook at Sweet’s Hawai­ian Grill adds sesame seeds to teriyaki noodles for one of the dishes at the pop­u­lar Provo eatery.

PROVO, Utah — This Utah Val­ley city is not your typ­i­cal des­ti­na­tion or col­lege town; it has a long and strong af­fil­i­a­tion with the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints. Two of its most prom­i­nent in­sti­tu­tions are Brigham Young Univer­sity and the Provo City Cen­ter Tem­ple, both of which are ringed by ma­jes­tic peaks.

Provo was named for the French Cana­dian trap­per Eti­enne Provost and was set­tled by Mor­mons in 1849. In 1875, church Pres­i­dent Brigham Young es­tab­lished an academy that rose to univer­sity sta­tus at the turn of the 20th cen­tury. Nearly 90 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion is made up of mem­bers of the LDS church, and many res­i­dents are cur­rent or for­mer BYU stu­dents, a dis­tinc­tion that has shaped the city’s cul­ture. For in­stance, Mor­mons do not con­sume al­co­hol, and the dearth of bars and so­cial drink­ing is no­table in Utah County, much of which is a moun­tain­ous area that at­tracts out­doorsy types with happy-hour habits. (I spot­ted two bars down­town and over­heard one group of friends search­ing for wine, which they lo­cated at the Black Sheep Cafe. The caveat: They had to or­der food too.)

The Utah Val­ley Con­ven­tion and Vis­i­tors Bureau’s walk­ing tour cov­ers more than 70 sites, in­clud­ing many in the Provo Down­town His­toric Dis­trict. Where do you start? No. 1, Provo Town Square, seems ob­vi­ous, but I de­cided to be­gin with No. 71, be­cause I am a sucker for sweets. Startup’s Candy still oc­cu­pies the 1900 build­ing that pro­duced the coun­try’s first filled candy and Mag­no­lias, a fore­bear of the breath mint. The con­fec­tionery is open week­days, one of the few places on the list with pub­lic ac­cess. (Most are pri­vate homes.)

Provo’s culi­nary scene is par­tially in­flu­enced by the Mor­mon tra­di­tion of in­ter­na­tional mis­sion­ary work. Mem­bers who leave for pros­e­ly­tiz­ing re­turn to Provo with ex­panded palates. You can play spin the globe in the his­toric down­town dis­trict, stopping on pho, Bel­gian frites, sushi, In­dian, Czech pas­tries, Mex­i­can fruit pops or kro­nuts in a French bak­ery.

Lo­cal faves

Home­sick­ness has an up­side: au­then­tic Hawai­ian and Poly­ne­sian food thou­sands of miles from its roots.

The founders of Sweet’s Hawai­ian Grill are originally from Tonga (Mom, whose name is Sweet) and Samoa (Dad), and they lived in Hawaii be­fore mov­ing to Provo for law school. Miss­ing the cui­sine of the is­lands, they started serv­ing plate lunches nearly 30 years ago.

Their kids now run the show, but the clas­sic meal has not changed much: two scoops of rice, a choice of mac­a­roni salad or pineapple with li hing mui sea­son­ing and one to four pro­teins — in­clud­ing kalbi ribs, katsu fried chicken, teriyaki bar­be­cue chicken and kalua pig.

The restau­rant ro­tates its spe­cials and themes, such as Satur­day’s poke bowl.

Bev­er­ages dive deeply into trop­i­cal fla­vors. Try the Otai, a Ton­gan smoothie with mango, co­conut milk and ice, or an in­fused kava drink cre­ated by BYU stu­dents. Omai Crich­ton, the daugh­ter of­ten found be­hind the counter, also makes leis that she sells in an ad­join­ing space. It’s the state­ment piece that says, “Aloha, Provo.”

What do you get when you com­bine Czech and Texan culi­nary in­flu­ences? Czech-Tex? Nope, Hruska’s Ko­laches.

The Eastern Euro­pean break­fast food ar­rived in Provo on the wings of three Texan sib­lings at­tend­ing the univer­sity. The dough is based on a recipe from their grand­mother, and the fill­ings are as bold and as­sertive as a Texan oil­man.

The sweet pas­try re­sem­bles a Dan­ish in ap­pear­ance but not taste; the sa­vory va­ri­ety looks like a din­ner roll with a bun in the oven. The teeny bak­ery with the pear-themed decor (“hruska” means “pear” in Czech) opens at 6:30 a.m. By the noon­ish clos­ing time, only the tags de­scrib­ing the 24 fla­vors and two spe­cials re­main.

On a week­day morn­ing, empty trays mocked pa­trons for not ar­riv­ing ear­lier. We missed out on la bomba car­ni­tas; cho­co­late, peanut but­ter and ba­nana nut; bacon, egg, cheese and jalapeno; and rasp­berry nutella, to name a few. A few maple pecan and mixed berry re­mained, but the ko­lache clock was tick­ing. Provo was named for the French Cana­dian trap­per Eti­enne Provost and was set­tled by Mor­mons in 1849. Hog jowl tacos, left, and a glass of prickly-pear lemon­ade, right, at the Black Sheep Cafe.

what he knows — Na­tive Amer­i­can and South­west­ern dishes — and what he picked up from watch­ing cook­ing shows on PBS.

Be­fore open­ing Black Sheep Cafe with his two sis­ters, Mason lived with his fam­ily on a Navajo reser­va­tion in Ari­zona and the Man­dan, Hi­datsa and Arikara Na­tion in North Dakota. (The sib­lings have since sold the busi­ness, but Mason still holds the head­chef ti­tle.)

That for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence turns up in such dishes as hog jowl tacos on blue corn tor­tillas and Navajo tacos with green chile pork or red chile beef. The green chile also shows up on the frites and in a stew.

All of the sauces and breads are made on-site, in­clud­ing the nan­niskadi, which kicks the burger bun to the cor­ner. The restau­rant has a full bar with bot­tles of high- and lowal­co­hol beer, though who needs booze when cac­tus pear lemon­ade is in the house?

With more than 1,000 games, you could eas­ily end up eat­ing three square meals, plus snacks, at Good Move Cafe.

The board game restau­rant,

which serves din­ers from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on week­nights and till midnight on week­ends, en­cour­ages eat­ing while play­ing. If you’re stumped by all the choices, the staff is happy to rec­om­mend a dish (the Cow­boy Burger, Meeples Mac and Cheese) and a game (Te­lestra­tions, Pho­to­syn­the­sis).

If you drib­ble, say, gooey cheese from the Grilled Parcheesi onto the Sorry! board, don’t fret: “That’s why we have a bud­get to buy new games,” said Dave Moon, who owns the place with his son, Shawn.

On Wed­nes­day nights, the cafe holds tour­na­ments, and you can take the Jenga Burger Chal­lenge. Eat a stack of three burg­ers cho­sen off the menu to win a free burger for a fu­ture visit. Be­fore open­ing wide, you might want to hit up the Hun­gry Hun­gry Hip­pos for some tips.

Bed & break­fast

The name­sake of the Hines Man­sion Bed & Break­fast worked in min­ing and real es­tate and as a phar­ma­cist and sa­loon­keeper.

His hard work paid off,

as you will wit­ness when you step in­side the op­u­lent Vic­to­rian manse dat­ing to 1895. You might first no­tice the chan­de­lier, a prop from “Gone With the Wind,” or smell the cho­co­late cook­ies cool­ing on the counter.

All nine rooms fea­ture jet tubs, and one (the Li­brary) has a spi­ral stair­case that leads to a soaker with sky­light views. With such dreamy names as Vic­to­rian Rose and Se­cret Gar­den, I was hardly sur­prised to meet around the break­fast ta­ble new­ly­weds and a cou­ple cel­e­brat­ing their fifth an­niver­sary.

I stayed in the Sea­side Re­treat, the orig­i­nal lo­ca­tion of Spencer and Kitty Hines’ bath­room, but wished I had known about the Lodge room’s Butch Cas­sidy con­nec­tion be­fore book­ing. (The out­law al­legedly sneaked in through the door to evade the sher­iff of Salt Lake City, whose cousin, a friend of Cas­sidy’s, owned the place.)

Ghost sto­ries are up to the guests’ imag­i­na­tion, but when­ever an elec­tric is­sue arises, innkeeper Michelle Schick will say, “Kitty, knock it off.”

When the front door code didn’t work, I knew ex­actly who to blame.


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